Gray's stellar first half earns third All-Star nod

July 2nd, 2023

BALTIMORE -- Rocco Baldelli doesn’t portend to see the future, but from the day  arrived at Spring Training in February, the Twins’ manager had a feeling the veteran right-hander was primed for big things in 2023.

“I never claim to be a fortune teller, but the signs were there,” Baldelli said. “He came in and he did everything a player could do. He came in at full strength at a time of the year where it's hard to come in at full strength, and the first time he threw the ball in Spring Training, everyone looked at each other and was thinking the exact same thing. This guy couldn't be in a better spot right now.

“And he's thrown the ball like that all year.”

It's come as little surprise to the Twins that Gray has pitched as well as he has in the first half, or how he was rewarded for it Sunday, by being named the team’s lone All-Star. Gray was elected via the player vote, earning his third career All-Star selection and first since 2019 with the Reds. He was also an All-Star in 2015 for Oakland.

“To be going to a third All-Star Game is something that, to be honest, I'm very proud and happy to do,” Gray said Sunday, after twirling six more scoreless innings in Minnesota’s 2-1 loss to the Orioles. “I'm very, very proud of that.”

The 33-year-old righty enjoyed one of the best Aprils of any pitcher in baseball and has remained remarkably consistent since, going 4-2 with a 2.50 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 96 strikeouts in 17 starts in his second season with the Twins. He leads all qualified MLB starters in home run rate (0.29), leads the AL in earned runs allowed (26) and ranks second in FIP and ERA. No AL starter has allowed fewer home runs than Gray’s three across 93 2/3 innings.

“He’s had a phenomenal first staff,” Baldelli said. “He's pitched his tail off every single time he's touched the mound, keeps us in every single game that he pitches. He came back this year after a great year last year in even better form, and he's been consistently a bulldog for us out there. I think it's an extraordinarily deserved accolade for him and placement on this All-Star team, so it's great.”

Gray is in line to make his final start of the first half on Saturday, which would keep him eligible to pitch in the All-Star Game on July 11 in Seattle. Gray grew emotional upon learning the news of his selection. Tears swelling in his eyes, he said he was most excited to share the experience with his two young sons, Gunnar and Declan, who are eight and four.

“They remember (‘19 and ‘15), but they are definitely at the age now where it will be special (for them),” Gray said. “You get a ring for making the All-Star team. I’ve had one for each boy, and now maybe I can keep one for myself.”

Added Baldelli: “He’s the kind of guy that motivates the people around him just by the way he acts and by the way he pitches, and the way he thinks about the game … We expect another half like this, or better.”